Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meenu Kutty

This post is written for the Indiblogger - Incredible Stories Contest

The following is partially true and I have taken creative liberties to add a bit of spice but all characters and incidents are real did take place to someone whom I know.

It was a phone-call one Thursday evening from an unknown number; a voice from so many years back; it took me a while to find my voice and reply. The voice on the other end said - 'Hello, is this Seshu, this is Meenu, Appa passed away today the cremation ceremonies will take place by Sunday. Will you be able to come? I am sorry to barge-in after so many years, but we are struggling a bit and I don't think I have enough money for all the ceremonies' and she just broke into tears and cried. I comforted her - 'Meenu kutty. Don’t worry I will reach there tomorrow; don't worry about the expenses - I will take care - I owe at least this much to Raghu Mama.

I rushed about like a man possessed - I called my friend Somu who worked as a TTE in Southern Railways and called in a favour - 'Matchan one ticket to Palakkad -kaise bhi dila de.' He said - 'Tu station aa ja main sambhal loonga - Alleppey Express mein ek berth milega!'

I packed some clothes along with a veshti and angavastram separately in a cover checked my wallet and added my debit cards and also took some five thousand rupees in loose cash locked my flat and headed out to Central Station.

As promised Somu had a ticket ready for me - 'He winked and said - Saale, vapas aakar bar le ke jaa aur poori kahani bata'. I smiled and boarded the train. Thankfully it was an AC coach so there were no worries - the food was oK nothing great. The train had reached Arakkonam and the other occupants were ready to sleep. Lights were switched-off and the blue night-light went on.

I just lay on my berth and thought:

My father was a marine engineer and was posted in Dubai. I had lost my mother when I was three. I grew up in the loving care of my grandparents. Father used to come home on a one-month vacation every year, then he would be gone and I would once again have just my grandparents for company.

Thatha was a retired postmaster and Patti was a music teacher. I used to study at the St. Mary’s School, which lay across the river. I had to travel on a boat, which would ferry me to the school.

Meena was Raghu uncle’s daughter. Raghu uncle was the village administrative officer. Meena’s mother was Sheela teacher, my Geography teacher. They were our neighbours.
My first memories of Meena are that of a beautiful girl in a blue and gold ‘pavadai-davani’ [half-saree], with jasmine flowers in her hair and a smile on her face, singing “Alai Payudhe Kanna…” in grandmother’s music class.

I was a shy boy and had no friends except Meena. Meena was my classmate in school; the two of us would play together, go fishing in the pond near our house, and steal mangoes from the orchard. Life went on at its own sweet unhurried pace. Thatha would make fun of me saying “Dei Seshu, Meena kitta mattikitaya, [Hey Seshu got caught by Meena]; she is going to marry you and torment you like your Patti torments me.”

It was Meena’s tenth birthday; and her parents had organized a grand party. Meena was wearing a pink frock with a red belt. She looked like an angel. She cut the cake, and I gave the birthday present to her. It was a novel by Enid Blyton, which Thatha had carefully gift wrapped. During the party Meena came to me and said-“Seshu, thank you for the lovely book. I too have something for you.” She took out a small toy figurine of my comic superhero Batman and gave it to me. “Seshu, Appa has got a promotion and a transfer, we are leaving for Chennai tomorrow.” I was shocked. Meena was leaving me, no more hide-and-seek, no more singing, and no more fishing. I held her hands in mine and said-“Goodbye Meenu Kutty, best of luck.” I ran to my house without turning back, as I did not want her to see me crying.

The next morning they came to say goodbye. They took the blessings of Thatha and Patti; I had made a small card for Meena. I had drawn a rose and written-“Best of luck Meenu Kutty.”

That was the last time I saw her, though I kept getting letters from Meenu once in a while.

Somewhere during the course of these thoughts I fell asleep. I woke up all of a sudden with a start and hit my head on the roof of the coach forgetting that I was sleeping on the upper berth. I rubbed my head and looked at my watch - at least an hour more to Palakkad.

I got down and went next to the exit and stared out as the beauty of Kerala in the early morning light, greenery, coconuts, the milkmen and newspaper vendors - it was almost as if I was back with Thatha and Patti and Meenu. Raghu Uncle had been caught in a controversy with a local MLA and had lost his job and had spent a majority of his savings in fighting a defamation case against the MLA - as usual the corrupt MLA won and Raghu Uncle had never been the same. Meenu remained a spinster forever and Sheela teacher had passed away one night in her sleep.

Our ancestral home was managed by a caretaker who deposited the money earned from the coconut groves and the jackfruit plantations on a regular basis. Nair Uncle the caretaker was waiting for me with the old white Ambassador at Palakkad station.

He said 'Seshu - mone koraya kaalam aayi - Raghu saar marichu - aa kochu veliya kashta thil aana' 'Seshu it’s been quite a while - Raghu sir died that poor girl is in lots of trouble.'

I reached home, took a refreshing bath in the pond and had a quick breakfast of puttu and kadala curry and a glass of filter coffee made by our cook Narayani Chechi.

I then left to Meenu's house - Raghu uncle's body had been kept in an ice-box and Meenu sat next to the body sad but with a stoic calm on her face. When I called out Meenu Kutty there was a smile on her face - ah what an angelic smile - I was reminded of my childhood playmate and all the fun that we used to have.

She got up slowly as I walked up to her. There was an awkward uncomfortable silence and she stared at me. I said - 'Meenu, don't worry - I am here now!' She just rushed up to me and hugged me with tears pouring out - Seshu that MLA bled us blind - the house is also under mortgage my job at the school just about takes care of the medical and food expenses.' I felt uncomfortable not knowing what to do, I said 'Meenu calm down - we will sort out everything.'

The next two days were hectic - getting the vaddhiyars organised, arranging for the ceremonies, paying back old bills and other tasks.

Meenu was in tears but she bravely lit the funeral pyre on Sunday morning at the Bharatha Puzha.

We returned to my ancestral house! It started raining and the downpour continued all through the night. Meenu slept in Narayani chechi's room.

The next day I planned to leave - I was scheduled to report to work on Wednesday. Monday morning was a bit cool as the over-night rains had brought down the temperature, as I returned from my bath in the pond I noticed Meenu sitting in the courtyard reading the newspaper. Just for old-times sake I plucked a couple of hibiscus flowers from the creeper crept up to her from behind and threw them on her head!

She jumped up with a start and then started laughing and then Nair Uncle saw us and he too started laughing - it was a moment frozen in time just like our childhood.

That one moment changed my life - I took a decision and spoke to Nair Uncle in confidence and he approved of my decision. At lunch I asked Meenu - 'Meenu Kutty, I love you a lot, will you marry me?'

Meenu was shocked and stared at me and got up! She walked out of the house and I was totally upset. Nair Uncle comforted me Seshu come on be calm!

I felt sad and the left the table. My train was in the evening and I was dropped at the station by Nair Uncle. We bid goodbye!

As I walked up to the platform I noticed that the train was delayed. I went into the waiting room and there she sat all ready with her suitcase and bag - my Meenu Kutty and she smiled at me - that angelic smile again!

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